Persecution watchdog groups have decried the "cruel" and horrific torture an imprisoned Christian pastor is being subjected to in China, calling it an "utterly grievous injustice."
"In 2014, Pastor Zhang Shaojie was unjustly sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment and an extortionate fine. Recent reports that he is on the verge of death after being tortured in prison would be an unacceptable abuse of human rights even if he were guilty, but the deliberate ill-treatment of an unjustly sentenced pastor is an utterly grievous injustice," Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement on Wednesday.
"We call on the Chinese authorities to immediately stop the mistreatment of Pastor Zhang and to review his sentence with a view to securing his unconditional release. We further urge the Chinese government to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is fully protected in China."
China Aid, which monitors human rights abuses in China, reported late last week that Zhang's daughter, Zhang Huixin, who currently lives in the U.S., has been speaking out against the mistreatment of her father who has been in Xinxiang Prison of Henan Province for almost four years now, as part of his 12-year sentence.
"They cruelly torture my father," the daughter described. "He's unable to see the sun during the day. He's deprived of sleep for 24 hours at a time. The prison gives him only one steamed bun a day and intentionally starves him. According to people who have been released from that prison, my father is barely alive, suffering both mentally and physically."
Zhang's sister, Zhang Cuijuan, added that he was in poor condition when she was allowed to visit him in prison.
"He was in a terrible mental state. His eyes burned from sleep deprivation. He said that he is forbidden to sleep during 'strict supervision.' He was depressed, and I had no way to help him. The prison guard held the phone throughout our entire conversation and we were forbidden to talk about his case," she said.
Zhang was fined and sentenced to 12 years in prison back in 2014, reportedly for fraud and for "gathering a crowd to disturb public order," China Aid noted.
Although his Nanle County Church is part of the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the pastor was reportedly punished following a land dispute with government officials in 2013, in which he led a group of Christians to Beijing to file a petition, angering officials.
Further describing her father's plight, Zhang Huixin noted that family members are only allowed to visit him once a month for 30 minutes.
"During the visits, we can't tell him anything. We were only allowed to greet each other. [The guards] would immediately cut off the phone if he complained about life in prison or how they starved him. The guards watched us closely. My father was forbidden from telling me anything of the prison and I was forbidden from telling him of anything of the outside," she said.
Several Christians and human rights lawyers have in recent times opened up about the sadistic torture they have suffered under the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Bob Fu, founder and president of China Aid, recalled the words of one such man, Li Heping, in an article in The Wall Street Journal in May:
"There were times that I wanted to commit suicide. I survived because of my Christian faith, the courageous advocacy of my wife and the attention of the international community."
Despite the crackdown of the Communist Party government on Christians, believers in China have reportedly continued to grow in large numbers.
The Rev. Erik Burklin of China Partner, which trains Chinese Christian leaders, said earlier in June that parts of the country are reporting as many as 100,000 new followers of Christ per year.
Speaking with church leaders in the city of Nanjing, Burklin shared:
"We asked the pastors there, 'How many baptisms did you have last year? How many new converts did you have in your city?' he then gave us an overview of what God is doing in their whole province. He was proceeding to explain to us that they have up to 100,000 new believers on the average every year. ... That's unheard of."